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Dannon Embarks on GMO-Free Cattle Feed Mission


Dannon has announced a plan to use only milk from cows fed GMO-free feed for its leading brands of yogurt. Maybe not a “first of its kind” announcement given Chobani’s on-again, off-again flirtation with the issue, but nonetheless a bold move the food system will watch closely.

Within three years, Dannon says the milk for its three flagship brands will come from cows fed GMO-free feed. The announcement applies only to Dannon, Oikos and Danimals brands for now.

It could be a move to find a competitive niche in what has become an increasingly crowded category — Greek yogurt. Will others try to follow suit? It will be difficult since the overwhelming majority of corn and soybeans in the U.S. are genetically modified.

Dannon’s chief executive acknowledges as much to the New York Times saying, “Sometimes I wake up sweating and thinking, what are we getting into?” reports the pressure will likely fall on 13 dairy farms owned by seven families that produce 40 percent of the milk Dannon uses.

Such a move would be difficult for poultry or swine producers, but dairy might be able to pull it off because a smaller percentage of a cow’s diet is grain-based. Industry observers will also monitor Dannon’s ability to maintain such a position over time. Will there be enough value to the brand to justify the higher cost of segregating feed?

Then there’s the scientific perspective. Some people hold the illogical belief that byproducts from an animal that has eaten GMO feed is also GMO. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows GMOs are safe.

GMOs have been safely used for decades and are an important part of providing safe, healthy and affordable food, a top priority for all food producers. Respected regulators, including the FDA, as well as global health watchdogs, including the World Health Organization, are confident in the safety of GM foods, based on years of scientific studies, and consider them essentially equivalent to non-GM foods. GM crops are often more sustainable because many times they use less fuel, fertilizer and pesticide, which means a smaller carbon footprint.

Retailers will try to give consumers what they want regardless of the science. Dannon’s announcement signals another wave of “product without” or absence labeling in an effort to position brands as being different and distinct from the conventional food system. More companies continue to look for ways to create competitive differentiation in an increasingly challenging market for processed food.

The image “k11662-1” by U.S. Department of Agriculture is licensed under CC BY 2.0.